Labour’s vision of a better Ireland – A New Republic
Opening Remarks to Conference, Friday, 2nd November 2018
I want to open my remarks with a few words of thanks.
I’d like to thank the our hard working staff and the many volunteers,
who I know have put tremendous work into organising Conference
and helping us run events this weekend.
I want to thank Dublin Bay South for hosting us,
including Cllr Dermot Lacey and Cllr Mary Freehill for welcoming us here,
Kevin Donoghue who will be running for us in the next locals
and of course Senator Kevin Humphreys who I hope will be re-joining us in the Dáil after the next election.
I hope none of you have upset Kevin by booking into an AirBnB this weekend!
But on a serious note, that is the type of campaigning that Labour politicians excel at
identifying problems that affect real people and putting forward practical solutions.
For two years Kevin has campaigned to regulate short term lets, and finally this Government is acting.
And not least,
I’d like to thank you all for travelling to be here at Conference this evening.
I know it’s all the more difficult now, to travel across Ireland,
with Shane Ross as Minister for Transport.
At least, I think he’s a Minister.
He’s listed on the Government’s website.
Although I seem to recall him claim that making changes to the new BusConnects plan was nothing to do with him.
He was planning to send in his own submission.
It is just one example of how the current Government is a shambles.
There is only one positive from the fact that Minister Ross is in charge of Transport.
At least Leo didn’t give him Housing or Health!
And which is worse?
This Government’s record on housing or on health?
Yesterday, Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar’s teams were negotiating more years of Confidence and Supply.
But who would have any confidence in this government?
And what have they delivered?
They inherited an economy that was well on its way to recovery.
But they don’t know how to use the opportunity they have been given
to make the necessary changes to improve people’s lives.
They are ‘conservative’ in every sense of the word.
Labour is different.
Our Conference is themed ‘A New Republic’.
This is not a new theme for Labour.
My friend Brendan Corish had a few things to say about it.
It was his vision,
it is our vision,
it is Labour’s vision of a better Ireland.
Labour’s optimism for Ireland’s future never gets old.
We are the party that always strives for a better future for all our people.
And we don’t rest on our laurels.
Although I might make an exception for the recent presidential…
Where our own Michael D Higgins increased his vote, despite the lower voter turnout.
I know that many people in this room were on the ground,
Campaigning to ensure his re-election.
Michael D represents so much that is good about the Labour tradition.
Unflinching commitment to his principles.
The intellectual capacity to grapple with the complex challenges facing society.
And genuine concern for the welfare of others,
Especially the most vulnerable.
Contrast that with Peter Casey’s Trump tactics,
Grabbing headlines by picking what vulnerable group to bully next.
I look forward to another seven years of being represented by Michael D!
Labour was vindicated this year too,
When the results of the Referendum came in,
To remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution.
Labour was at the forefront,
Including Michael D and Mary Robinson, among others, in the Senate,
Campaigning against putting something so restrictive into the Constitution in the first place.
It was the fulfilment of many people’s lives’ work to see the amendment removed,
To allow medical need and women’s health to take priority.
I pay tribute to Ivana Bacik in particular, for her lifelong campaigning on this issue.
But we can’t stop there.
One of the reasons we will hold a session tomorrow on the Future of Women’s Health is to map out what needs to happen next,
Not just in terms of reproductive health,
But also in response to the Cervical Check scandal,
And the recommendations in the Scally report.
In our New Republic,
We would build a single-tier, publicly-funded and publicly-owned health care system.
Labour is committed to driving forward the vision of healthcare reform in the SláinteCare report.
In our Ireland,
All workers would have decent pay, so they can live in dignity.
That’s why we’ve produced a detailed set of policy proposals on how we would ensure Decent Work for All,
Which we will discuss on Sunday.
Not least our proposals in support of collective bargaining.
In our vision for the future,
People will be able to afford to buy or rent a decent home.
As we know, all too well,
So many people are denied such a basic right.
A decent home should be a solid foundation for everyone to get on with their lives.
Insecurity of tenure… or fear of rent increases… undermines people’s ability to save money and to move ahead with their lives.
Labour has identified how to raise at least €16 billion to directly commission and build 80,000 homes over five years.
We would make these affordable to those who need them,
without selling off public land or subsidising private developers.
And Labour would tighten regulation of private landlords,
not give them more tax breaks.
Only Labour has the will and the vision to deliver affordable housing.
Even from Opposition we continue to advance important legislation.
Seán Sherlock’s bill on banning plastic microbeads,
Our Bill to outlaw online bullying,
and Ivana’s Bill to advance gender pay equality
have all pushed the Government into action.
Alan Kelly’s Bill in support of micro-breweries is now law.
It will expand a sector that creates jobs right across the country.
We know that Brexit puts thousands of jobs at risk.
In particular, it risks jobs in food and tourism,
outside of the main urban areas.
Labour is wide awake to the risks faced by rural Ireland and towns,
And we have been consistently ahead in seeing these risks and demanding a Government response.
Labour has been campaigning on a range of issues.
Not least, we are pushing the Government to restore town level government in time for next May’s local elections.
A large majority of TDs, including Fianna Fáil, backed our legislation in the Dáil, and we will continue to push for the restoration of town councils.
Labour delivers at local government level.
You can visit any number of local areas, and see examples of social housing being delivered…
In many, many cases, it was the Labour Councillors who pushed these projects forward, and got homes built, even when resources were tight.
The record shows that Labour have an impressive record of delivery where other parties falter.
But we do need reinforcement.
We have a fine selection of new candidates for the local elections.
I have travelled to a number of selection conventions,
Most recently: Tralee, Dublin and Waterford.
I look forward to travelling to every part of the country as part of our election campaigns.
43 local candidates have been selected,
and many more will be selected between now and May.
Let’s get them elected!
We have 23 Dáil candidates selected, with more to come.
And we have opened the process to select our European candidates,
With a number of excellent contenders already putting their names forward.
We are ready for whatever election comes next.
Labour is looking to the future of this country.
So much has been achieved in the last 100 years.
There have been vast improvements in education and health outcomes.
But there remains inequality.
Not everyone has anything like the same life chances.
Wealth is concentrated in too few hands.
And climate change looms as an existential challenge to our way of life.
There is plenty for Labour to do.
Our vision of a New Republic is in tune with the diverse place that Ireland has become.
People will always need decent jobs, and decent working conditions.
People need a government system that is neutral with respect to religion or ethnicity, but which delivers services impartially to all people.
People need a government that is active in taking measures to lower the cost of living, so that people can meet their needs.
Labour has a lot to offer…
I am proud to lead a Party that has done so much to advance decent jobs and decent living standards for ordinary people.
I am proud of our long-time members who are the backbone of the Party,
Up and down the country,
Who have kept Labour going through the hard times.
And I am proud of the many new candidates,
young and not so young,
Who have put themselves forward to be the next generation of torch-carriers
For decency, justice and equality.
As we shaped Ireland’s last century,
Let’s shape the next one!